The Via Crucis Path Through Minidoka

It was Saturday evening and I was sitting at home with not much left to do. I could dive into household chores. I probably should dive into household chores.

Or, I thought, I could go geocaching…

Well, of course, my favorite hobby won out over doing laundry.

When I hopped into the Jeep I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but as I drove to the edge of town I remembered being told about the Minidoka War Relocation Camp near Twin Falls. With something of such historical significance so close to my new home it seemed absurd not to visit it, right? And besides. Places like that were crawling with geocaches.

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I stopped at the informational signboard and read the blurb about the thousands of Japanese-Americans interned at the camp. But as this point, my main objective was still geocaching. Sure, I was interested in the camp. I’m a nerd. And it’s important to know our history well, including the dark spots because it’s the only way we’ll stop it from happening again.

20170722_195222The drive down “Hunt Road” toward the camp was quiet and soothing to the soul. I marveled at the beauty of the canal which ran alongside the road. The water was blue in the evening sun and the current fast, at places whipping itself into whitewater. Little did I know that I had just entered the Garden of Gethsemane and was about to begin walking the Way of the Cross with Jesus in this little ghost town in the high desert.

 

The Garden

The sky was blue. The sun was hot. The water looked inviting. I wanted to jump in and float the current. I wished I had my kayak so that I could paddle through those small rapids. There were no cars on the highway. There was only peace and quiet and gentleness. And then I saw this:

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Something in my soul shifted.

Had I really came to this hallowed ground to play a game? When so many other feet had stood in this same spot–but not for games and not for play?

I had been caught sleeping.

I had been lulled to sleep by the beauty of the place.

I had been caught sleeping, but now I was awake.

The buildings are built from lava rock which exists in abundance in the high desert. It is everywhere. Here, all else has fallen away. Torn down by human hands or by the elements–all that remains is this building made of rocks.

A dingy room. What was it?

A fireplace standing cold and empty.20170722_195159

How many frightened Japanese-Americans had tried to warm themselves by that fireplace?

My legs began to tremble. I know that here, in this place, at these rocks, Jesus had thrown himself down in agonizing prayer:

“Let this cup pass from me…”

 

Betrayed, Judged, and Condemned

The number is different depending on what source you look at. Some say 10,000. Some say 9,000. Some say 13,000.

Thousands of Japanese Americans interned here.

I stop and read the placards.

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I think about the names.

Japanese surnames. But so many of the first names are “American.”

How long had they lived on this soil before that Executive Order was signed?

How many hopes and dreams and ambitions had been harbored in all those vast places up and down the West Coast?

How much hurt and anger and rage did they feel when those bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor?

How many rushed to sign up? To add their name to the list of those who would fight to defend their homeland?

But the betrayal came.

Their names didn’t sound quite right. The color of their skin not the right shade. It didn’t matter that as a “Frank” or a “Tom” they were as American as anyone else… as “Nakamura” or “Eto” they celebrated a connection to something America feared and distrusted in that moment.

And so they were brought here.

Under armed guard.

Under duress.

They did not want to be here, but they were taken from the lush green places of the Washington State and Oregon coasts and they were brought here, to the barren, dusty desert–to tar-paper barracks with nothing more than what they could carry with them.

Betrayed by the people they had desired to live amongst and to love and to be a part of.

Betrayed.

I look at that list as if I want to burn each name into my memory and never forget them. The ones who died for this country even though this country and told them they didn’t trust them, didn’t want them, and locked them away.

They died for their Judas.

 

Denied

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I am all alone in this place.

Normally the sounds of the desert are overwhelming–it is anything but silent. There is the rattle of the wind blowing through the dry grasses, the high-pitched singing of the insects, the screech of birds on the hunt. And all of that is with me in this place, but all I can hear is the crunching of the fine gravel under my feet as I take one step after another.

I am keenly aware of my movements as the rhythmic crunch-crunch-crunch-crunch tells the world I am on the move.

The sun is shining down on me, but I wonder why. It doesn’t seem like the sun should shine on a place like this.

The path begins by following the barbed-wire fence along the perimeter of the camp. I turn and look behind me and see the guard tower standing above the desert…

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They were told they were simply being “relocated”, but they knew the truth. The president–their president–the president many of them undoubtedly voted for–he had signed an Order which banned them from the place they called home.

Their neighbors watched as the military men came and took them away.

Their communities saw their homes standing empty, lights once shining in the darkness now extinguished.

The people they had worked for, lived beside, done favors for, been kind to, laughed with– they had  all denied them.

“I don’t know this person!”

Over and over again, in the dark night of this nation’s soul, an endless stream of voices can be heard:

I don’t know this person.

A nation of Peters warming themselves by the fire in the darkness of a long night.

Denied.

 

Scourged and Taking Up The Cross

There are voice recordings at some of the stations.

I push the button and wait patiently as the scratchy recording qeues up.

The voices are much older now than they would’ve been when they had been brought to Minidoka. These are voices of people who know that what was done to them was wrong, but there is a resilience, a contemplative introspection in their stories.

This cross they bear is not their choice, but they hoist it on their shoulders and they push forward to a place they don’t want to go.

They go for a lot of reasons.

They go because they know physical resistance would mean bloodshed.

They go because they will do anything they must to keep their families together–to keep their children with them, to keep their spouses close by.

There will be a time for protests. There will be a time to fight and to appeal. But for now they carry this cross into the desert.

They toil the dusty earth to grow their own food. When the farms nearby begin to fret about how they will meet their labor demands in a time of war, these prisoners stolen away from their homes, with their crosses on their shoulders, go and offer their bodies to labor in the fields, to grow the food, to harvest the things their persecutors need to survive.

Iwonder what I would do. I wonder if I would be so willing to lend a helping hand to the very people who said they feared my freedom. Would I just sit down in protest and refuse to budge? How would I respond with wounds still fresh on my heart and soul? Would I put my hand in the air and say, “Yes, let me help the ones who put me here”?

Maybe it’s because they never lost sight of who they are–this unique blend of Japanese heritage and American customs.

While so much threatens to disrupt who they are, they steadfastly hold their identity close.

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They don’t let rejection by the country they’ve come to call home cause them to lose that part of who they are. They play baseball to sweat out the grief. They dig a swimming hole where their children can play safely. They come together to work as lifeguards to preserve one another. They take their children to Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts meetings in their tarpaper buildings. They join together to worship on Sunday mornings. They refuse to let the Americans who saw them as less-than define who they are.

They are American. And they are Japanese.

They remember this. Together, they remind each other daily.

Come what may, the roots are still there… just waiting for a shoot to begin growing from it again. And so they nurture the roots…

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And  they carry their cross into the desert and offer their bodies to the very people who have rejected them.

 

Mary and John Find Each Other

Though they may share a heritage, they are very different. They are strangers. But they lift each other up. They become one another’s helpers.

I don’t think I ever really appreciated what Jesus was doing when he introduced Mary and John to each other from the cross. But standing in the shadows of the few remaining buildings of Minidoka, I can’t help but understand a little bit better.

In hardship, they would be very vulnerable alone. They would never survive. But together they will have a shoulder to lean upon, someone to wipe away tears. Someone to remind them how to laugh and love and live in fullness even in the most difficult moments.

Here in this camp they are finding each other. Marys and Johns, mere strangers, find each other to make this hard life a bit more bearable. They support each other. They share with each other. They weep together. They mourn together.

But they come together and make a community in a place where guard towers stand in silhoette to the setting sun. They make a community in a place encircled by barbed wire where men with rifles walk steady patrol.

They find each other and they hold each other up.

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Crucified

No-no boys.

I don’t think I’d ever heard of them… and so I read the information about them with a heavy heart.

Will they serve? Will they swear allegiance?

A loyalty test some 12,000 internees would fail.

Those who fail are once again plucked from the life they were making for themselves in these distant and hard camps and carried off to far places where they would be kept as “segregees” in maximum security. Isolated even further from their people, their cuture, their way of life.

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For those who answered “correctly”, who didn’t qualify their allegiance and willingness, who didn’t protest–they banded together. Even from this prison camp designed to separate them from their American neighbors, they form USO clubs, they serve the war effort.

When permitted, some of their young men would take up arms, don the uniform of the men who had brought them here under duress, and venture off into the same war.

Some would not return.

 

Laid in the Tomb

I’ve come full-circle now. I’m back to the starting point. I stand next to the list of names of those who served–a simple sign of gratitude. I read about the garden of hope they kept at the gate of the place of imprisonment. A garden in defiance of what is being done to them. A garden of life in a place of death.

I’m looking across the street at the guard tower and the remains of the police station and visitors building–by now the sun is setting and beautiful bright colors are painting the horizon in a breathtaking display of God’s creation. The lava rock is black against that backdrop. And it looks like a tomb.

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The air feels heavy now.

The sound of my crunching steps has ceased.

The insects have settled.

Even the wind is not blowing.

The dry grass does not rattle.

There is silence as I stand in the shadows of a world growing dark.

Silence.

Darkness.

My heart feels as if it is breaking. The only words I can think to speak are words of desperation, of prayer:

“My God, what did we do?”

I stand for a long time in the shadows, watching darkness creep over the ruins of this place.

My God, what did we do?

 

Resurrection

Suddenly, from somewhere to my left, I hear the call of not one bird, but what sounds like a hundred. I turn to look and see them, sweeping back and forth through the air, delighting in the final feast of the day before night falls. They are rising up and circling about and calling to one another.

Their song is all I can hear.

And here, in this place so far away from my own home–in this place where I have come by choice, but where so many before me were brought by force–in this place heavy with memory and shame and grief, I hear the call of birds and am reminded of one of my favorite songs. A song which has reminded me throughout my life of my home–no matter where I am. When I hear Hazel Dicken’s distinctive voice begin singing the familiar refrain, my soul bursts with hope…

And in the song of those birds swooping to the earth and back into the sky I hear Hazel’s refrain:

In the dead of the night,
In the still and the quiet,
I slip away like a bird in flight,
Back to those hills,
To the place I call home.

I breathe a deep breath.

Even in the harshest moments of this world, even in this place of worldly shame and grief there is hope.

There is life.

 

A note to the reader:  There is a debate amongst the survivors of War-Time Relocation Camps about the proper terminology to us. Some call if a Relocation Camp while others call it an Internment Camp and still others call it a Concentration Camp. To the people who struggled under these hardships the terminology is important because it expresses a wide range of experiences and emotions. I chose to use the term printed on the material made available at the visitor center, but am keenly aware that this terminology, to many, is too soft. When you hear the tales of the war-time internment, hear not just the words the survivors speak, but also the unspoken emotion lurking under those words. It is only when we truly learn to listen that we will truly understand.

Also, the informational materials available at the camp utilized the words of the survivors, many of these expressing their feelings through various forms of art: literature, painting, poetry, song, etc…  Other camps produced other artists, other expressions of hope and pain and survival. Don’t let these words of a white, newly-middle-aged, middle-class woman who wandered into this camp to play a game be the only one you read about Minidoka. Seek out the authentic voices. Here the songs. Let your heart swell with the feeling of the art that broke the shackles of imprisonment and gave new life to an injured people. There is so much to learn.

Thorns and a Bleeding Heart

“I know the meaning of the image itself,” Shane, the tattoo artist, said, “But what’s the significance for you?”

It’s a question a lot of tattoo artists will ask as they prepare to begin a new work on a new client.

He was looking at the picture of the Sacred Heart I had provided him as inspiration for what I was looking for. It’s the latest piece in a slowly evolving 3/4 sleeve tattoo I’ve been slowly developing over the years. My faith story is being written out in tattooed artwork on my right arm and each image tells a part of my life.

There is the Holy Spirit dove, inspired from a church banner, diving down with flames rising up around it–a reminder of God’s calling on my life. A calling I had not expected and one that took me ten years to fully embrace. The words, “And the Spirit of God moved” arches around the dove–words from the very beginning of the collective faith story we have in the Old Testament and a reminder to me that God has come before all things and will be what remains after all things. There is nothing in my life so new that it is outside the realm of God.

Below it are a pair of angels stretching their arms in celebration of the Star of Bethlehem shining between them. This was inspired from the embroidery work on a clergy stole and marked an important era of my life in which my constant search for God came crashing into God’s search for me. Like those angel, I stretch for something just beyond my reach, but thankfully the mercy and grace of God is one that reaches down to touch us and so I’ve experienced the transforming power of Christ in my life because of it.

Then the words: “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.” My favorite verse. My mantra. One I often say to myself when things are getting tough or my path seems obscured. It is a prayer that often escapes my lips. And it is the principle by which I strive to live. It seemed only fitting that those words, which have meant so much to me during so much of my life, should be written upon my arm.

When I was ordained I had a chalice and wheat stalks added to the constantly evolving artwork–a commemoration of a ten-year journey that brought me through discernment about my calling, into candidacy for the ministry, seminary, commissioning as a provisional elder, and eventually the full ordination. It was a long journey which began many years before that with a calling… and yet, after all those years of study and preparation and discernment, I never cease to be amazed that God has found me worthy to stand before a congregation and offer the holy sacraments.

As I thought about the meaning of the other tattoos I found myself answering Shane’s question quickly about the Sacred Heart I had asked him to design for me.

“I’m a pastor,” I said, “And I’ve just come through a very hard five years and I want the reminder of what the suffering and hurt has been about.”

I was a little surprised to hear the admission of hurt come out of my mouth. I had a rehearsed story about the theology of suffering with Christ ready, but what poured forth when I opened my lips to speak was a confession of suffering.

The past five years have been challenging. There has been conflict in my ministry setting. There was the anti-freeze poisoning death of my beloved dog. There were health issues doctors were slow to recognize. There was an illness which landed me in the hospital for several days (the first time I’d ever been that sick). There was gossip and hurtful accusations and people so angry at me that they couldn’t be in the same room with me (something the people-pleaser in me finds particularly hurtful). There tears and heartache and battles against deep depression.

All these things came into crisp, clear focus as Shane began working on the most painful and difficult part of the tattoo:  the thorns. It is detail work. It required slow, steady, focused concentration as Shane slowly and painstakingly etched each thorn into my arm. As he began to fill the pattern out, he began adding more thorns than he had initially drawn into the stencil.

“I like a lot of these thorns,” he said. And I agreed. “Lets make sure they’re sharp…”

He went back and added sharp, prickly points to each thorn and I winced a little. Some people will tell you tattoos don’t hurt–and while they may not be excruciating pain–they are lying to you. Tattoos do hurt. And these thorns were painful… each thorn reminded me of each wound sustained over the past five years. Each tear shed. Each sleepless night and agonizing prayer.

But then Shane changed needles–no longer needing to focus on the fine details of the thorns. Now he was filling in the heart and the radiating light around it with broad strokes. This is considerably less painful work–and I watched as the beauty of the red heart took shape, as the light bursting forth from around it began to add texture and depth to the image.

The Sacred Heart is a complicated image to think about.

On the one hand there are the thorns wrapping around it, pricking it, strangling it… there is the wound in the side where the spear has been thrust.  But on the other hand there is the beauty of the heart itself–red and full of love and compassion and mercy, beating in defiance of the hurtful things surrounding it. Flames of mercy and brace burst out of the top bearing the harsh image of the cross–the instrument of torture and death–but these flames don’t burn to consume, they burn to give life. And all around rays of light burst forth because no matter how dark the wound in the side or the thorns may seem, the darkness cannot overcome the light.

I thought about this complexity as Shane brought the heart and the light and the flames into view on my arm.

There had been dark moments over the past five years. I still have the tear stains to prove it. But there had been so much more beauty. So much beauty that the thorns just weren’t able to mar. There may have been wounds, but there was a burning flame of passion and love rising out of it. And there was always light.

In the midst of the hurt and anguish were vibrant moments of love and mercy. Moments of forgiveness and reconciliation. Moments when the light shone so bright it seemed hard to believe there had ever been any darkness at all.

You see, faith isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. There are difficult moments, hard moments. But when we search for the light we’ll see that there is a beauty that rises above all the ugliness.

As the image took shape on my arm, the profundity of the full meaning of it took shape in my heart. Yes, there had been hard times. It felt good to confess that. But I’m still here. I’m still on this path. And the light is still filling my life.

And even though there may be some details which seem ugly, the beauty of the big picture is overwhelming.

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The Sacred Heart, artwork by Shane House (Ascension Tattoo, Twin Falls). Freshly done.

The Appalachian Preacher is Abroad

It’s been a while since I’ve written because I’ve been in process of following God into the unknown.

I’ve been in Idaho for two weeks now–I still haven’t finished unpacking the boxes and I’m nowhere near getting used to the smell of cattle feed lots. However, I have found the nearest Starbucks and began the process of getting to know my new congregation as well as the community beyond it.

I’ve had wonderful visits with life-long Idahoans as well as other transplants from various parts of the country. I’ve found other West Virginia “ex-pats” (because we have a way of finding each other no matter where we are) and I’ve had unexpected God moments which have reminded me who I am and why God called me in the first place.

But probably the thing which stands out most prominently in my mind as I reflect on this move is a story that only goes to show God’s strange sense of humor.

Not long before I left my last appointment some advice was given to me:  “Pastor, knowing you were coming to an older congregation, maybe you shouldn’t have had blue hair…”

At that time I was running through the entire line of Manic Panic hair colors and the week I arrived in my new town my hair was sporting “Electric Lizard” (which was actually green, not blue–but people seem to remember it as blue for some reason).

When I attended Annual Conference that advice “maybe you shouldn’t have had blue hair…” was still fresh in mind. When a friend’s daughter asked if she could put blue hair color on me, I asked if it would wash out. “Yes” she and her mother assured me. So, not being the slightest bit hesitant about doing something adventurous with my hair, I consented.

Only afterwards did any of us read the packaging which warned it may take more than usual six washes for this brand to wash out of bleached hair.

“I’m sure it’ll be gone before I get to Idaho,” I said. After all, I still had three weeks. Surely it would have faded back to blonde by then…

Fast forward to the night before my first service in Idaho and my hair is still a pale pastel blue.

I stood in front of the mirror wondering what I should do and that advice ran through my head again: “Maybe you shouldn’t have had blue hair…”

I recalled that as I had packed up my bathroom in West Virginia I had found a box of unused black hair dye from that particular hair phase.

So, I rummaged through boxes until I found it. Because my natural hair is a very dark brown (some call it black, anyway), I had been using “Midnight Black”–a blue-black hair color which I had always liked very well.

But I had always put it on my naturally dark hair… not bleached hair.

I was sure it would be okay.

So, I apply it… I wait the half hour… I wash it out and condition it… and I go to bed.

In the morning I groggily walk into the bathroom and look in the mirror and hear that voice all over again, “Maybe you shouldn’t have had blue hair…”

I stared in disbelief. What should have been black hair was actually more of a very dark, navy blue. But definitely blue.

All I could do was laugh.

I had allowed other people’s opinions to make me feel insecure about how I express myself, about how I reflect my creativity and uniqueness to the world around me… but God made sure I wasn’t hiding who I am, who God had called into the ministry, from my first day with a new people.

I tried–I tried to “maybe not have blue hair” and there I was, staring in disbelief into the mirror at my blue hair.

What could I do?

I styled it in my usual spiky faux-hawk and walked off to church with my head held high. Because this is who I am. And this is who God called.

Following God Into the Unknown

In January of 2006 I packed a bedroom suit, a loveseat, and a desk along with too many clothes and way too many books into a U-Haul and headed West. 

I was off to seminary. 

For several years I had simply assumed I would attend the Methodist School of Theology in Ohio (MTSO… or in United Methodist jargon, Methesco). It was in Columbus, only about three hours from home. I could reasonably be home every weekend. Maybe I could even serve a part-time church in West Viginia while in seminary, which would help with my finances. 

But then, just as I was about to finish my college degree and was considering my next academic move, Dr. Richards, a professor and a mentor pulled me aside and asked why my first choice was Methesco. When I couldn’t give him any reason for choosing it other than it was close and convenient, he encouraged me to really look at seminaries.

“Choose one that will stretch you,” he encouraged me. “Choose one that will stretch you until you have to grow.”

This intrigued me because just a couple weeks before a former minister mentioned a school I had never heard of in Denver, Colorado. Although it was one of the United Methodist affiliated schools, it was so far away that no one from the West Virginia Conference of the UMC attends it. When I inquired about area graduates, there was only one that anyone knew about in West Virginia, and he had graduated some thirty years before. 

The Iliff School of Theology was not only geographically far away from me… it was about as far from the red state conservative theological world in which I had grown up as I could imagine. If there was any place that was going to stretch me, it was going to be the liberal Iliff School of Theology. 

Plus, it was in Denver. I could spend the next three years of my life playing in the Rockies.

But I was terrified. I had never lived away from St. Albans, West Virginia before. I had never been more than a couple hours away from my family and my support network. I worried about getting homesick. I worried about not being able to make it on on my own. I worried about failing.

“So let’s say you can’t find a job and you can’t pay rent and you get evicted from your apartment,” Dr. Richards said one day as I worried out loud about what a cross-country move would mean, “Who would you call?”

“My parents,” I said without hesitation.

“And would they help you?” He asked.

“Sure… however they could,” I said, “Even if it simply meant getting me on a flight and brought back home.”

“See?” He said, “You’ll still land on your feet. You may not land exactly where you want to land… but you’ll land on your feet.”

He was right. I was blessed with a supportive family. And with supportive friends. And a supportive church. So even if I failed, which was my greatest fear, there would still be an avenue home. I just needed to trust.

When I received my acceptance letter to Iliff, I tore up my application to Methesco–and in January 2006 I crossed the country in a U-Haul to a city I had never visited, to a school I had only seen online. For the first time in my life, I crossed the Mississippi River and headed into the sunset to begin a new chapter in my life.

Coming from a very conservative background and attending a very liberal school certainly did stretch me. I had to question and search and agonize over beliefs I had taken for granted. I had to look deeper into my certainties. I had to think and re-think my stances on one issue after another. And I grew. Not only did I gain a deeper academic knowledge, but I drew closer to God through it all and gained a deeper understanding of the divine.

More than that, I had to learn a lot about myself as well. I knew I would always be ultimately okay because my family, for as far away as they felt, was only a phone call away… but I was still on my own in a strange city. I didn’t know a soul. I was starting from scratch and I had the chance to grow into my own person, fully independent and self-aware.

Those three years of seminary were pivotal in my life, not only because of the school, but because of the experiences. However, I lived each experience knowing it was only temporary because at the end of it all, I’d be coming home to Appalachia, to my West Virginia hills. Even with the temporariness of it all, it was a period in my life which taught me to trust God’s guidance in my life. I learned to let God lead me into the unknown–something I would need to do over and over again in the ministry. Each new chapter was a brand new unknown. Each new experience as a minister was a journey to the mountaintop or into the valley, but I had to trust that God would be with me through it.

Now, I find myself preparing for a new chapter yet again… but this time it doesn’t have the same temporary feel. It feels like a long-term, perhaps even permanent, path which is taking me even further from home.

After a couple years of prayer and searching, a year of discernment in which I spoke to my Bishop and colleagues about the direction I felt God drawing me in the ministry, it became clear that I was being led into the unknown once again. I’ve recently accepted an appointment in the Oregon-Idaho Conference, the first step in this new chapter… the next stop on a very long faith journey.

I won’t lie–I’m a little scared. 

I don’t like the idea of being so far from my family. I understand that this will draw me even further from my childhood and lifelong friends. It’s always intimidating to walk into a new place, wondering what the culture shock will feel like for me… for the people I’ll be joining in ministry. 

But I still hear Dr. Richards’ voice asking me who I will call if I find myself in trouble…

I will call upon the same blessings God had given me several years ago when I walked into the unknown then. A family who loves me. Friends who will prop me up. A church that will help catch me if I fall. 

Most Sundays I remind my congregations that God sometimes calls us out of our comfort zones. For a while we can do the ministry God has asked us to do in places and with people who are familiar and whom we understand; and then, all of a sudden, God is dragging us to a place we don’t know, to a people we don’t understand, and asking us to do his work there. But if we’ve fully relied on God in the familiar places we will find that those blessings we might have taken for granted will be the very strength we need to go into the unfamiliar.

Today I count my blessings as I pack my boxes because I know that the past several years in the familiarity of my Appalachian Mountains has prepared me for the journey into the unknown on which I am about to embark.

A Pilgrimage in the Social Hall

A handful of my parishioners and I joined together in the social hall for the purpose of making a pilgrimage. We were there to walk the Via Dolorosa together…the Way of Sorrows, or the Stations of the Cross. 

On the night in which Jesus gave us the mandate to love one another, we came together to remember just how much Jesus loved us and what he was willing to do for us.

There were a lot of little moments that touched my soul as my parishioners made their way from station to station and as I offered communion to the spiritual pilgrims… but one moment in particular will stay with me for a very long time.

Our music director’s nephew had been up the road at his school participating in soccer practice. He was to walk down to the church as soon as practice was finished. 

Bryce burst into the room as only an outgoing third grader can–with an energy and vivacity that politicians and preachers dream of possessing. But it was his eagerness to see what was going on that captivated me. He practically ran to the first station to see what was there. His aunt followed him and gently told him what the items on display meant. She is a teacher, so she has an easy way of communicating ideas to children… and I listened as Donna explained and Bryce asked questions or explained what he already knew. 

The stations were interactive, designed to put all five senses to use as we made our way around the room. Sometimes adults can be a little hesitant about handling and object or carrying out an activity, but a third grader doesn’t have those hang ups. Bryce tried the olives and spit them out. He eagerly picked out a rock to carry and placed it in his aunt’s pocket. He ate the chocolate with abandon. He rattle the chains, drove the nails into wood with the hammer, drank the vinegar… 

I sat there pondering what Jesus had told us about coming to the Kingdom like one of these little children and I wondered if Jesus had watched the little ones exploring the world around them at the Temple. He must have. Because once you’ve seen a child eagerly consume the things of faith, you know what God is looking for in a relationship:  willingness, openess, eagerness.

The next couple of days in the life of the church are hard ones. They are emotional. And I hope I can come to it with the same desire to learn and experience as Bryce brought to our piligrimage in the social hall tonight.

Bombs and Babies

I would knock the hell out of ISIS…[and] when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.  ~ Donald Trump (Time, December 2, 2015)

Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey. ~ 1 Samuel 15:3

When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. ~ Matthew 2:16-18

Dear God:

I won’t pretend to understand all those Old Testament commands you issued–to kill and slaughter “beautiful babies”. I’ve wrestled with them all my life. From smashing tiny, fragile skulls against stones to the wholescale slaughter of the firstborn across Egypt, I have struggled to understand. I won’t lie to You, either. I have been outraged and angry when I hear your command to Abraham, even though I know how the story ends… because Abraham didn’t know. Nor did Isaac, bound beneath the glinting knife.

I don’t understand.

But I know Your voice when I hear it. And I heard it when you sent the angel to Joseph and sent Your Son into Egypt, not as a slave, but as a refugee, at the mercy of others.

I heard it when Your Son spoke to Jairus’ daughter:  Taulitha koum.

I heard it when Your Son scolded his disciples, “Forbid them not… for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.”

I have wept for Isaac. For the firstborn of Egypt. For the innocents of Bethlehem. For the children of ISIS and Syria…

Because I heard your voice speaking when Your Son said, “But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you.”

I won’t pretend to understand all those Old Testament commands to slaughter and destroy even the children… and I suppose one day, standing in Your Holy Presence, I may find the courage to ask You… but for now I struggle and I listen for Your voice which still speaks through Your Son and I know–I know— that bombs are not your way.

Whatever brokeness and sin brought us to places where death and destruction seemed the only way, it was never where You meant us to be. It was never what you intended when You created us. And it was not what Your Son died on the cross for…

Your world was never meant to mix bombs and babies.

And this is why I weep today.

Love, your heartbroken and weary daughter,

Amanda Gayle